What's the deal with digital printing?
Printing books digitally - both in short runs and on demand - has been growing in popularity during recent years. Ansgar Reiners tells the story of how UPM got into the digital paper business and takes a look at what’s in store for the digital printing industry.
It’s not so long ago when we first got into the digital paper business. Back in 2015, we had noticed that a lot of our customers were looking for digital paper, mainly for photobooks. One of the seekers happened to be one of the biggest photobook producers in the area of the UPM Nordland paper mill where I am located. We saw this as a great opportunity for us, and so we developed a coated paper for digital applications.
At the same time, we were looking to streamline the processes in our different mills. We analysed the different types of papers we had and the sizes we cut. SRA3, which is 32–45 centimetres, is a typical size for digital applications and we had a few thousand tonnes of this format in one of our finishing areas. As it turns out, we were already in the digital paper market. We just needed to get the word out more widely.
The possibilities of digital printing
As far as short run book printing is concerned, a photobook is perhaps the best illustration of what digital printing technology – and digital papers – can do. It’s possible to produce only one book, of course, but there is also a potential within the publishing business to produce, let’s say, an additional 500 to 1,000 copies, depending on the printer. While there may be a higher printing cost, matters such as working capital and risks concerning overstock are eliminated.
When considering the entire print run and calculating the whole package, traditional offset printing is often the cost-effective option for long run book printing. However, during the live end of a book reprint, which can take place years after the first edition, the books on demand technique makes more sense since digital printing using digital papers offer printers and publishers considerable flexibility. More than complementing offset, digital printing allows businesses to save money because only the necessary quantity is produced, thereby reducing the scope for waste.
What lies ahead for the book printing industry?
As the book printing industry continues its evolution into the digital age, predictions for the future are always bound to be discussed. In terms of trends in the digital paper market in the next 5–10 years, I think that digital printing technology – sheet-fed and reels – will grow fast. The challenge remains to find the right substrates for this technology. That requires a lot of work. For us, it involves a lot of collaboration and networking with original equipment manufacturers. Together with them, we want to offer cost-efficient solutions that are suitable for small volume publishers who use digital printers.
We have observed that our customers are investing more and more in digital printing technology. That was the main reason behind our decision to come up with our digital range. In relation to this, we have created a DIGI Matchmaker tool that allows customers to choose the right paper for their presses from our UPM Digi papers range. It also gives recommendations that take the printing method and printing machine into account.